Margaret Fortune: Author of the Spectre War Series
Today we’ll be having an interview with one of my favorite sci-fi authors: Margaret Fortune. I have reviewed both of her books Nova and Archangel. Margaret, thank you so much for taking the time to do this!
Is your recent book part of a series? If so, can you tell us a bit about where the story is heading?
I’m the author of two books, Nova and Archangel, which are both part of a series called The Spectre War. Set in the distant future, in a time when humans have spread out and settled throughout the universe on myriad planets, colonies, and space stations, the series tells the ongoing story of an interstellar war from five different perspectives. At first the war seems fairly straightforward, but we soon learn that it’s anything but what it seems.
The series will be comprised of five books, each featuring a different protagonist—Lia, a genetically engineered human bomb (Nova); Michael, a soldier testing weapons prototypes (Archangel); Teal, a student turned resistance leader; Storm, a medical test subject; and Shar, a powerful psychic on the run. Though each protagonist has their own story to tell, every character also carries a piece of a much larger puzzle—the truth behind the war itself. Only when they finally combine their individual pieces will the characters understand the true nature of the enemy and their purpose behind the war. However, once they learn the truth, will it be enough to defeat the enemy and win this war once and for all . . . or will the truth only doom them—along with the rest of humanity—for all time?
The answers will come in books three, four, and five!
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise? Why or why not?
I’ve written a lot of characters, each with their own abilities, moral standards, and emotional baggage, but no, I’ve never written one I simply despise.
Part of writing authentic, three-dimensional characters is recognizing that people are never “all good” or “all bad.” As such, it’s important to be able to both empathize with and criticize your characters in turn. If you can criticize a character but never empathize with them, they’re probably not so much a person as a one-dimensional villain, a cardboard cutout there to serve the plot and the main character’s story arc.
On the flip side, if you can empathize with a character but never criticize them, they’re probably too perfect to be real. Even the best people fail at times. They make mistakes, they act selfishly, they do things they secretly know aren’t right. They do wrong things for the right reasons, and right things for the wrong reasons. It’s part of being human. At times, I’m writing and I want nothing more than to give my character a big hug and tell them it will all turn out okay in the end. And then other times I’m writing, and I just shake my head in despair at them, and say, “Oh, this is not a good moment for you.” It goes both ways.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
Things I like the best: Well-developed characters who are flawed but still relatable; clever plot arcs that go in unexpected directions; unique and interesting settings so vivid you feel like you’re there; strong female characters who don’t wait for rescue but use their brains, initiative, and leadership skills to solve their problems; strong male characters who know when to use their hearts instead of their fists, and are all the stronger for it; well-crafted prose that sets a mood or atmosphere; and stories that have me coming back and thinking about them long after I’ve finished the book.
Things I like the least: Wasted potential. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing a great concept ruined by poor execution or lack of good direction. Stories mired in tropes, clichés, and stereotypes. One-dimensional characters who are nothing more than vehicles for the plot or concept rather than people. Heroes that are too perfect to be believed, and villains that are so evil they’re cartoonish. Bad or amateur writing, filled with lots of obvious redundancies or errors that could have been easily fixed…but weren’t.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music, or something else?
During the week, I write in the evenings after work. On the weekends, it varies, mainly depending on how many chores/errands I have to do and how much I procrastinate.
Must haves? Well, it helps if I have my laptop! I rarely write by hand. Otherwise, not really. All I need is my brain, my laptop, and a place to sit.
Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?
The short answer is no, my characters don’t control me. All of my characters are figments of my imagination cooked up in my brain, and thus everything on the page is a direct result of what I, as an author, choose to do. That said, as I continue to write, I’ll often discover hidden dimensions in my characters that I wasn’t consciously aware of before, dimensions which may shape what direction the book takes. So while my characters don’t “control me,” the book will evolve and change during the writing process as my characters continue to become more fleshed out and realized in my mind.
What kind of impact do you want your books to have on readers?
I want my readers to laugh, to cry, to think, to be inspired, to turn the pages like there’s no tomorrow. I want them to cringe when they see a character they love about to make a terrible mistake, to grind their teeth when that character is mistreated, and to feel elated when they’re triumphant. I want people to stay up past their bedtimes, to miss their subway stops, and be late to their parties because they have to find out how it all ends. And when the end finally comes, I want them to sit on the edge of their seats and bite their knuckles and say, “OMG!” In short, I want people to enjoy my books, because that’s what reading is all about: having fun. So to all the readers out there, whether you’re reading my books or someone else’s—Happy Reading!
What, in your opinion, is the worst mistake an author can make?
I think there’s a rather unfortunate misconception about mistakes, this idea that mistakes are terrible things that must be avoided at all costs. In reality, making mistakes is the way we learn, we grow, and we improve as writers—and people. So often I see writers so terrified of making “rookie mistakes” that they put blanket bans on stuff--Don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t use this at all. The problem with banning anything and everything you might mess up is that instead of learning how to do something right, you end up learning to do nothing at all. Instead of adding to your options, you take them away. Mistakes can be painful, but by allowing ourselves to make them, we give ourselves a chance to learn something new and ultimately come out stronger on the other side.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Be honest with yourself. Whether you’re an amateur writer trying to get an agent, a newly agented writer trying to get your first book deal, or a published author whose books haven’t done so well, the fact is that the publishing industry is tough. It’s not easy, it’s not fair, and your relative success or failure in the industry is often largely influenced by factors beyond your control. And succeeding in the industry—or even getting into the industry at all—often requires you to make compromises between what the market wants and what you want.
So it’s important to be realistic about what the market demands and honest with yourself about what your writing/career goals are, which goals are most important to you, and what you’re willing to do—or not do—to achieve them.
If you could go to any fictional world, where would you go? Why?
My own, of course! There’s nothing I’d love more than to see my worlds come to life around me. I want to stroll the halls of New Sol Space Station, watch the shifting pastel mists through the crystalline walls of R&D, and hike through the alien Rainforests of Iolanthe with purple blossoms in my hair and cloudvines around my ankles.
Of course, I’d prefer to do all that some time when the enemy isn’t around…
If you could have one magical ability/superpower, what would it be? How would you use it?
Teleportation. Think of all the amazing places you could go and things you could do. Feel like Italian for dinner? Why not go out to eat tonight—in Rome! Feel like hitting the beach but it’s 30 below and you’re buried with snow? Teleport to Hawaii for a Saturday afternoon! No plane fares, no long car trips—one snap of your fingers, and you’re there. (Plus, if I could teleport to work, I could get up a whole 25 minutes later in the morning!)
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
Aliens, definitely! (Not that, as a sci-fi writer, I’m biased, or anything!) Zombies are rather limited—they just moan and eat brains. Dragons are pretty to look at, but it’s impossible to get fire insurance when they’re around…and they have a tendency to eat your pets. But aliens… aliens have got everything! They’re good and they’re evil, they’re sentient and non-sentient, they come in all shapes and sizes and colors, from far-off planets and distant galaxies, each with their own amazing cultures, backgrounds, and abilities. When it comes to the sheer possibilities, you can’t beat a good alien!
Margaret Fortune wrote her first story at the age of six and has been writing ever since. She is the author of The Spectre War series, which includes the books Nova and Archangel. She lives in Wisconsin. (Even though all the cool kids live in Minnesota. It's okay. We love her, anyway.)
You can find her on...
Monday Movie! A Wrinkle in Time
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!